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Lawmakers Call for Sex-Segregated Military Training

Congress: Proposal by 81 House members comes in response to wave of sexual-misconduct cases. Critics say plan would be unfair to women.

May 09, 1997|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — As the U.S. military struggles with a wave of sexual-misconduct cases, 81 House members, almost one-fifth of the full membership, called on the Pentagon on Thursday to segregate basic training of recruits by sex, providing female drill instructors for platoons of women.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), chief sponsor of the proposal, said segregated training would "provide both men and women the necessary opportunity to successfully become military personnel without the distractions of sexuality."

But Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills), like Bartlett a member of the personnel subcommittee of the House National Security Committee, said the plan would damage the career prospects of women in the service while doing nothing to stop sexual misconduct.

Bartlett's bill marked the first attempt by members of Congress to write a law to cope with the burgeoning military sex scandal. His measure was tossed into the hopper a few hours after Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Thursday that the Defense Department will investigate allegations that rape charges against black noncommissioned officers are racially motivated.

"Those charges will be examined. . . . We take any allegation of irregularity seriously," Bacon said in response to questions at a Pentagon briefing.

All the servicemen charged so far are black, and most of the alleged female victims are white, but Bacon insisted that the military "remains an exemplary institution in dealing with the question of race."

Bacon refused to comment on specific cases, including charges of assault and adultery brought by the Army on Wednesday against Sgt. Maj. Gene C. McKinney, the service's top ranking noncommissioned officer.

Bartlett's bill would require the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to establish gender-segregated training facilities at the company level and below. Only female officers and noncommissioned officers could be assigned to train female recruits and only male officers and NCOs could train men. The Marines already train men and women separately.

Most of the sexual-misconduct cases have involved drill instructors accused of preying on recruits.

In an accompanying letter to his colleagues, Bartlett said: "Same-sex drill instructors provide the respective recruits with appropriate role models that will help them succeed in their future in the military."

But Harman said the current practice of training men and women recruits together is producing troops that perform the wide variety of military tasks more skillfully than those trained separately.

"Gender resegregation is not the solution to sexual misconduct," Harman said in an interview. "They are separate issues. Gender resegregation hurts women. It gives women inferior training--separate is inherently unequal--and it makes it harder for women who go into a gender-integrated services to succeed."

The Pentagon defended its present practice.

"The Air Force, the Army and the Navy all have gender-integrated training at the basic training level," Bacon said Thursday. "They believe this is the best way to train their force. The mantra they use is 'we train as we fight.' "

Bartlett, Harman and other members of the House military personnel subcommittee will travel today to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., which has a basic training facility, for a first-hand look at the Army sex scandal.

At Ft. Leonard Wood on Thursday, Staff Sgt. Steve A. Holloway, a 14-year Army veteran, was sentenced to four months' confinement and a bad-conduct discharge after being convicted for sexually abusing recruits in his command. He was acquitted of the most serious charges against him but convicted of maltreatment, assault and battery, solicitation to obstruct justice and violation of regulations prohibiting personal relationships with trainees.

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